A year ago, Steve Addazio faced myriad concerns as he prepared Boston College’s football team for its season opener. First and foremost, he had to restore a winning culture to a program that had lost its way.
Now, after surpassing expectations in his first season at the Heights by guiding the Eagles to a 7-6 season that featured their first bowl appearance since 2010, Addazio has new anxieties.
The biggest worry?
“It’s the unknown,’’ said Addazio, whose team lost several explosive components from last year’s squad.
He will learn a lot Saturday when BC opens its season with the “Battle for the Bay State’’ against the University of Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium.
“I think the fact that we have so many losses [in personnel], there’s so many new faces,’’ Addazio said. “On top of it, we’re playing a team that’s a brand-new program, with a brand-new coach, brand-new coordinators, and then brand-new faces that they have coming into their team.
“It’s the combination of those unknowns. I mean, you’re always going to have anxiety, I don’t care who you are, where you are. That just adds to it.’’
Addazio won’t be alone in that sentiment.
UMass coach Mark Whipple, who will be making a second tour of duty in Amherst after guiding the Minutemen to a national championship in 1998, is also facing a number of the same issues after the Minutemen suffered back-to-back 1-11 campaigns under Charley Molnar.
Both teams are starting transfers at quarterback. Addazio will start Florida transfer Tyler Murphy, while Whipple to Blake Frohnapfel, a 6-foot-6-inch, 229-pounder who came to UMass from Marshall.
“We’ve had a good camp, guys have gotten better, and I’ve certainly seen a great deal of improvement from the first day of spring,’’ Whipple said. “Are we ready to play at an ACC level? Well, we’ll find out. It’s a tough opener, but one that our guys are pretty excited about.’’
The Eagles will attempt to account for the departure of Messrs. Williams, Amidon, and Freese by turning to a number of capable replacements. The sophomore duo of Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse will carry the ball, a position augmented by the arrival of talented freshmen Jon Hilliman, a four-star recruit from Plainfield, N.J., and Marcus Outlow, another highly touted freshman from Norwich, Conn.
Josh Bordner, a 6-4, 230-pound senior, served as Chase Rettig’s backup last season, but was converted to wide receiver over the winter. Voted one of BC’s four captains, Bordner is a hybrid receiver with the size, speed, and athleticism to create matchup problems.
“I’ve waited a while [to play] and I’m really looking forward to the season getting going,’’ said Bordner, who will joined in the receiving corps by Dan Crimmins (6-5, 237) and Charlie Callinan (6-4, 220). “Saturday, I’m going to have a bunch of emotions going, but I’m really excited and really looking forward to it.’’
Senior Alex Howell will attempt to handle the punting, field goal, and kickoff duties while Murphy, a dual threat, will take over as the Eagles implement a spread attack.
Murphy was not eligible to be voted a captain because he did not meet the requirement of having spent at least one year in the program, but Addazio said he still regarded him as a team leader.
“Your quarterback has to be a captain-leader, regardless,’’ Addazio said. “He wasn’t eligible for that election, but make no mistake, he’s got to be the most dominant leader on the field and right now, he is.’’
Middle linebacker Sean Duggan and strong safety Dominique Williams, voted captains along with center Andy Gallik, will be expected to be ringleaders for BC defensive coordinator Don Brown, who will match wits with Whipple, his friend and former mentor at UMass.
“We see all types of defenses from our own defense,’’ Bordner said, “so it really gets us prepared for anything they’re going to throw at us.’’
That knowledge, however, did little to diminish Addazio’s anxieties about the season opener.
“You never really know anymore what you’re going to get until you get under those bright lights,’’ Addazio said. “Every team, every year, has a different personality, has a different vibe about them. You don’t really find that vibe and that personality out until they’ve been under the lights and in the heat of battle.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.